Introduction to our new Chief Exec, David Fraser

Chels Hothem
April 24, 2017
October 31, 2022

The River Thame Conservation Trust is pleased to introduce our new Chief Executive, David Fraser. David joined our team in August and has already gotten stuck in with Trust activities. David is an environmental and business professional with 23 years of experience in the public, consultancy and charitable sectors. We are excited to have him step into the CE role and build on our previous CE’s successful tenure. David is an avid angler with a deep personal connection to rivers and has ambitious goals for the Trust. We asked him a few questions to introduce himself to our supporters, read on for more.

What first connected you to rivers and brought you to love them?

My “entry point” to loving rivers was through angling. Growing up in the Scottish Highlands, I was surrounded by lochs and rivers, and spent much of my youth marauding across the countryside in angling related capers, usually in pursuit of trout or pike. As well as being fascinated by river wildlife, I loved the physical and geographical aspects – for example observing the way my local river- the Conon – had been modified, and how it “behaved” as a result of being harnessed for large-scale hydro-electric development, how terrifying it was when in flood, and even how the daily and monthly patterns of the tides affected its lower reaches. When I wasn’t near water I was plotting my next fishing adventure, usually with my head buried in the pages of Trout and Salmon magazine.

David (CE), Hilary (Sr Project Officer, Rose (local farmer), and Ben (RTCT Chair) at a recent farmer engagement event.

How has your academic and professional career brought you to where you are today?

Academically I was a total delinquent, but my love of fish and rivers gave me the motivation to get into university to study biology. I guess I must have gotten the hang of studying, as I subsequently ended up doing a PhD on fish ecology at Glasgow University (a whole different story, which I will be happy to recount on another occasion).

I was very fortunate to secure my first “proper” job as a national freshwater adviser with English Nature (I left just before its metamorphosis to the imaginatively retitled Natural England).

This role placed me at the epicentre of the river conservation world and broadened my overall conservation horizons through working alongside specialists covering the full spectrum of habitats and species groups (i.e. not just the watery ones).

Through roles in environmental consultancy and environmental research, I assumed a progressively greater involvement in more business-related activities such as project management, pursuing external funding, and business planning. Each of these is arguably (ok, I concede, unquestionably!) less glamorous than conservation on the riverbank itself, but nonetheless very important. In pursuing the RTCT CEO role, it was the amalgamation of my technical and business attributes allied with my passion for rivers that I felt placed me ideally.

David and Project Officer Andy talking with stakeholders about chalk streams

What positive changes do you want to see in our rivers and how will RTCT achieve these?

Although the Thame undoubtedly has its challenges, it also has a lot going for it. Large parts of the floodplain are undeveloped (in comparison with many other lowland rivers), meaning it has space to flood, meander, change course – all the things that rivers are rarely allowed to do. These characteristics also afford the potential for large-scale habitat creation projects, and we should be ambitious about what we might achieve.  In contrast to the main River Thame many of its tributaries have been straightened (even a cursory look at a map reveals many straight lines and right angles!) and deepened. I’d love to see some of these “re-wiggled”. Those modifications also apply to many of the catchment’s chalk streams, which are real gems, but underappreciated and often neglected. A feature of all the catchment’s watercourses is poor water quality and addressing this is one of my key priorities. Water quality won’t be solved quickly or easily, but we know that by comparison with other tributaries in the wider Thames catchment the Thame fares poorly, so maybe it is time to catch up through appropriate investment, regulation and other measures.

Lastly, thinking back to my own experience of how a love of the natural environment had a positive influence on me- personally and professionally, I am a strong advocate for the wellbeing and education benefits of engagement with nature. I want to ensure that throughout the Trusts’ work we continue to provide opportunities for engagement – through volunteering, citizen science, education, and events. We are a small organisation – but with our network of partners and supporters, I am optimistic about what we can achieve.

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